DALLAS – The penalty box was the Dallas Stars’ enemy on this night and they had no answer for the wizardry of NHL leading scorer Claude Giroux and veteran Jaromir Jagr.
Thanks to two power play goals against, as Giroux notched a goal and three assists in his first game back from injury and Jagr added a goal and an assist, the Philadelphia Flyers rolled to a 4-1 victory over the Stars at the American Airlines Center Wednesday night.
With the cameras from HBO’s 24/7 following around the Flyers, the defeat left Dallas 19-13-1 on the season and holding onto a share of the Pacific Division lead as the Stars fell to 4-2-0 in their last six outings.
In the second installment of a three-game pre-Christmas homestand, the Stars found themselves in penalty trouble too often, although to characterize some of the calls as ‘questionable’ would be putting it mildly. Regardless, the Flyers took advantage of their opportunities, going 2-for-5.
Dallas was also assessed two 10-minute misconduct penalties that didn’t affect the manpower but left them without the services of two forwards, including captain Brenden Morrow, for a good chunk of the third period.
“It’s just a little embarrassing when all you got to do is throw your head around to get a penalty called,” said Morrow, who totaled 12 penalty minutes and saw his four-game points streak snapped. “Looking back, I think I took two sticks in the face and if you don’t fall on the ice or throw your head back and make it look obvious, they’re not going to see it and just apologize for it. I let them know. I’ve been in the league for 12 years now and I know what’s a 10 or not, because I’ve had plenty, and the big lights of HBO or Versus or whatever it is tonight, they got a little sensitive and that’s just too bad.”
While the Stars failed to score on any of their three power plays, they did credit the Flyers for being able to take advantage of their chances.
“I thought they capitalized on their power plays and we didn’t capitalize on ours,” Stars coach Glen Gulutzan said. “At 5-on-5, I thought the play was pretty even, just the specialty teams came into play and they beat us at that game for sure.”
“They got a great, high-scoring team, let’s be honest, and you give them chances on the power play, you’re going to shoot yourselves in the foot,” added Steve Ott, who fired two shots on goal and led the Stars with six hits. “I thought they did a pretty good job of spreading our penalty kill out. There’s a few breakdowns there that we need to adjust to, we’ll probably watch a lot of film on that tomorrow, but we’ll move on from there on the PK.”
The Stars actually jumped out to a quick 1-0 lead less than a minute into the contest, but the Flyers, who increased their NHL-best road record to a stellar 13-3-2, battled back thanks to their dynamic duo.
“I don’t know if there’s a better line in hockey, but those two guys, they’re magic,” said winger Adam Burish, who returned to the lineup after missing 15 games with a fractured hand. “Jagr, I don’t think he missed a step, the way he can shoot the puck and move and Giroux is just a superstar. He’s leading the league in scoring for a reason.”
“Jagr’s kind of made a career of it and playing with a skilled guy like Giroux, they’re going to make you pay,” Morrow added. “We got on the wrong end of it a few times and skilled guys are going to find a way.”
Still, as Gulutzan indicated, the Stars felt they hung with one of the best teams in hockey for most of the night, actually outshooting Philadelphia 31-30 despite missing top defenseman Stephane Robidas due to a foot injury.
“We stuck with it, the shots were 30-30 or something like that, and if this is the top echelon of the NHL, I think we can play with them,” Ott said. “Obviously they were better than us tonight and the score indicated that, but for the most part, if this is the top payroll in the NHL and we’re sitting at the bottom, then I like our character. We had a number of good scoring chances and it could have gone either way.”
“Rydes made a great shot early in the game,” said Morrow of the Stars’ early lead. “Hockey’s a lot of momentum changes and they just stuck with the game plan and worked and worked and tilted the ice in their favor. There were periods of the game where we had the majority of the play and they just capitalized on their chances and we didn’t.”
Rookie goaltender Richard Bachman was back in net for his sixth straight start and put forth a solid effort, making 26 saves and keeping Dallas within relative striking distance most of the game.
“I thought he made the saves he needed to make and the goals weren’t his fault,” said Gulutzan. “I thought their goalie made some real big saves at key saves for them too. The game could have got blown out if our goalie didn’t make those extra saves, but it could have been a lot tighter if their goalie didn’t make them, so I think it goes both ways.”
With a late-arriving crowd due to an unusually early 6:30 pm start time, many fans missed the Stars jumping on top just 56 seconds into the opening period when Michael Ryder notched his team-leading 12th of the season. On the rush into the Philly zone, Loui Eriksson slipped a drop pass back to the charging Ryder, who launched a scorching wrist shot from the top of the left face-off circle that beat Philadelphia goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky over the glove.
The Flyers began to push the tempo a bit more after that, and rookie Matt Read forced Bachman to make a sparkling save on an uncontested one-timer from the slot at 2:04.
Philadelphia tied it at 8:30 when Giroux, in his first game back after missing four with a concussion, notched his 17th goal of the year. After Bachman stopped Jagr’s wrist shot from the slot, the rebound deflected off Sheldon Souray in front and fell right on Giroux’s stick off to the left of the crease for an easy tap-in.
The Flyers’ first power play of the night, following a mysterious Vernon Fiddler unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, resulted in Wayne Simmonds making it 2-1 at 11:36. Kimmo Timonen started the play with a slap shot from the point that appeared to deflect at least twice on its way to the net, with Simmonds’ re-direct from the slot finding its way through Bachman and in.
Bachman made a huge pad save on the Flyers’ second power play at 15:33, denying Jagr’s quick wrister from the right circle.
Following the first period, with the Stars down 2-1 and trailing 15-10 in shots on goal, there was an incident in the runway leading from the team’s benches back to the locker rooms. TV replays clearly showed Flyers coach Peter Laviolette, while waiting for the Stars to clear the path for him, shoving Ott to squeeze around him on his way down the hall.
“It’s disrespect of our building - just let our team off, it’s not a big deal,” Ott said. “He obviously thought that he has a higher power than everybody else and a little bit more arrogance. Of all the coaches in the whole NHL, that’s probably the first time I’ve seen that. I would never do that if I was in Philadelphia in their building and had to walk through their lineup. Just let us go and show a little respect, that’s all. It’s probably his own arrogance going to their own dressing room.”
Laviolette would not comment on the incident.
Once the second period got underway, the Stars wound up surrendering another power play goal just 21 seconds after Souray was whistled for slashing. On the rush into the Dallas zone, Jagr and Giroux executed a nice give-and-go passing play, culminating with Jagr chipping home his 11th of the year at 8:00.
The Stars had several golden opportunities to get back into the game over the next several minutes, but some big saves from Bobrovsky thwarted their attempts. First, at 8:50, Eriksson weaved his way into the Flyers’ zone, cut in front and attempted to slip a short shot through the five-hole, but Bobrovsky made the stop.
Less than a minute later, Eric Nystrom made a brilliant move cutting out front from the right corner for a stuff attempt at the right post, but Bobrovsky held his ground.
Then, with the clubs skating 4-on-4 at 13:39, Philly defenseman Andrej Meszaros wiped out with the puck just inside the Flyers’ zone and Radek Dvorak swooped in to take it and race in on a breakaway. Dvorak launched a quick wrist shot from the slot, but Bobrovsky made an impressive glove save. Fiddler was right there for the bouncing rebound, but it hopped over his stick and the Flyers cleared the zone.
About 30 seconds later, Alex Goligoski found himself alone in the left circle for a prime wrist shot, but Bobrovsky made a big chest save before smothering the rebound.
Bachman made a couple of big stops of his own after that, denying Giroux’s point-blank snap shot at 14:47 and sliding across the crease to turn aside Scott Hartnell’s one-timer from the doorstop with 1:11 left in the period and Philadelphia on another power play.
Trailing 3-1 heading into the final period, the Stars fell down by three 5:22 in on Meszaros’ fourth goal of the year. Giroux carried the puck into center ice along the boards, drawing two Dallas defenders to him before feeding a cross-ice pass to Meszaros at the Stars’ blue line, springing him on a breakaway. Skating into the slot, Meszaros fired a high wrist shot that beat Bachman past the blocker, clanking off the left post and in.
Following an unfruitful Stars power play that again failed to click, Bachman kept the deficit at three with a big save on Tom Sestito’s re-direct in front at 16:21.
The Stars conclude their homestand Friday night when Nashville visits the American Airlines Center (7:30 pm start, FSSW) before getting a league-mandated two days off for the Christmas break. The Predators, with a 17-12-4 record on the season, fell from seventh in the Western Conference to ninth Wednesday after San Jose and Phoenix won games and passed them in the standings.